I made my first visit today for lunch at Gio, Chef Ray Bear's home in the Prince George Hotel. Make no mistake though: Gio is not a hotel restaurant in the usual sense of the word. There is the more traditional restaurant, Terraces, that serves that function at the Prince George. Gio is something entirely different: a modern, sexy, high-style kind of place with food and service that is at the top end of offerings in Halifax, but with prices that are comparable to most other places that offer nowhere near the experience.
I have experienced Chef Ray's cuisine at a number of special events but have not had a full sit-down meal until today. I was with a group of 8, and the concensus was that everything served was absolutely top-notch. I can comment on several dishes: the chowder is an absolute work of art, loaded with seafood in a rich, creamy base that was extremely flavorful, with a small scallop in the shell along with several mussels serving as decoration as much as content. It is perhaps the best chowder I have ever had. I tried the fish cakes as my main, which arrived on a long, narrow plate with a pile of sweet potato frites. The fish cakes were, again, loaded with fish; in fact, if there was any criticism, it might be that there was almost too much fish and not enough potato to bind them together. But again, the flavor just exploded in your mouth with every bite. A tiger prawn pasta got outstanding reviews, and the open-face buttermilk chicken sandwich was deemed the best chicken the person ever tasted.
Gio offers an outstanding wine list, with several excellent selections available by the glass or half-bottle. Service was very good, with a friendly, attentive server, and simultaneous delivery of eight plates to the table by three staffers. Prices, while not cheap, are in line with places like Seven and Bish, and for my money, Gio exceeds both in quality and the experience. As to whether it surpasses my favorite restaurant in Halifax, Da Maurizio, is difficult to say, as they are very different in style. DaM offers a more traditional, opulent, rich style of dining, while Gio is more fusion-based, more modern, more creative, and super-styled. I need to go back for dinner, but right now, if I was given the choice to take my favorite lady out for the evening, Gio would be my choice.
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